Coronavirus hospitalizations are now spiking to near record highs as infections surpass 4 million in the United States – but daily deaths from the virus still remain relatively low compared to early on in the pandemic.
The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus across the country hit 59,846 on Thursday, according to a tally from the COVID Tracking Project.
It is just shy of the 59,940 people who were hospitalized on April 15 when New York was the epicenter of the US outbreak and the death toll was surging.
There has been an uptick in deaths, on average, across the US since the beginning of July after hotspot states including Florida, Texas, Arizona and California started seeing an explosion in cases and hospitalizations.
More than 1,100 deaths were recorded on Thursday, marking the third straight day the US has passed that grim milestone as the pandemic escalates in southern and western states.
Currently, more than 143,000 Americans have died from coronavirus.
But even though deaths are rising in the US for a second week in a row, they remain well below levels seen in April when an average of 2,000 people a day were dying from the virus.
Health experts have indicated the death toll may not be as bad this time around possibly because a large share of the current cases are younger people, who are less likely to die, and because of advances in treatment and knowledge of the virus.
Until recently, the number of deaths per day from COVID-19 had been falling for months after initially peaking in April – even as the hotspot states in the south experienced huge daily surges in cases.
Daily cases are now more than double what they were in April when the virus was ravaging mostly northeastern states like New York and New Jersey.
The number of single-day infections surged on Thursday to more than 71,000 compared to the average of 30,000 daily infections in April.
Health officials have been warning for weeks that deaths could potentially surge again because the fatality rate lags several weeks behind infections.
A coronavirus death, when it occurs, typically comes several weeks after a person is first infected.
Experts have been predicting that the states seeing spikes in cases and hospitalizations would, at some point, see deaths rise too.
They now say, however, that the death toll may not be as bad as when the pandemic first hit because a large share of current cases are young adults, who are more likely than older patients to survive COVID-19 even if they have underlying health conditions.
Health officials have said the lower death rate during this current COVID-19 surge could also be a result of advances in treatment and knowledge of how to treat the virus since the first case was detected in January.
Prevention also plays a key, officials say, with many people’s behaviors having now changed as mask-wearing is becoming more common in some places.
Based on a weekly average, 60 percent of those currently hospitalized are in southern states, 25 percent are in the West and only five percent are in the initial Northeast epicenter.
Currently 56 percent of US deaths, on average, are being reported in the South and 27 percent are in the West.
Hospitals in Texas, Arizona and Florida have been nearing capacity in recent weeks as they struggle with the surge in new cases.
The rising deaths and hospitalizations in Texas has forced one county to store bodies in refrigerated trucks and prompting a top health official there to call for new stay-at-home orders.
Hidalgo County, at the southern tip of the state on the US border with Mexico, has seen cases rise 60 percent in the last week, with deaths doubling to more than 360.
‘We’ve got to lasso this virus, this stallion, bring the numbers back down and get control of this thing,’ Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said.
‘Because our hospitals – they’re war zones, they are really struggling right now.’
At the peak of New York’s pandemic, refrigerated trucks lined the streets outside hospitals as they were turned into makeshift morgues.
It comes as the US on Thursday passed a grim milestone of more than 4 million coronavirus infections since the first case was documented in January.
The US took 98 days to reach one million confirmed cases of COVID-19 but just 16 days to increase from 3 million to 4 million.
The total suggests at least one in 82 Americans have been infected at some point in the pandemic.
The average number of new cases is now rising by more than 2,600 per hour nationwide, the highest rate in the world.
As the epicenter of the US outbreak has spread from New York to the South and West, federal, state and local officials have clashed over how to ease lockdowns imposed on Americans and businesses.
Requirements that residents wear masks in public have become the subject of a fierce political divide, as many conservatives argue that such orders violate the US Constitution.
President Donald Trump, who has rejected a nationwide mask rule and been reluctant to wear one himself, this week reversed course and encouraged Americans to do so.